German director Marcus Nispel has seemingly made a career in film doing remakes/reinterpretations. While I thought that the initial outrage at his Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake was unwarranted (even if the film helped set off the whole horror remake circus), I was lukewarm to his Friday The 13th remake. Now as a switch, Nispel has directed (and written) an original property with The Asylum, aka Exeter, aka Backmask. With Nispel’s eye for interesting visuals (that background in music videos helps), my interest was piqued as to just what the man would show this time around.
Patrick (Kelly Blatz) has been hired by Father Conway (Stephen Lang) to restore a burned-out asylum owned by the clergy. According to his little brother Rory (Michael Ormsby), however, that equals having a all-night, drug-fueled party while Conway is away for the weekend. As is seemingly bound to happen, a few of the teens decide to mess around and conduct an experiment involving the dark arts. Unfortunately, the results disturb the vengeful spirits of the asylum, which proceed to possess and slaughter the teens one by one.
As expected, Nispel works his magic with the environment, showing off a suitably grimy and inhospitable asylum. It feels very much like the asylum from Session 9 (which definitely deserves a Blu-Ray release, by the way). The film also exhibits that desaturated look Nispel has used in his other horror films, so you also get grimy-looking but shiny-with-sweat teens. Being that this is a possession film, Nispel also thought enough to sprinkle in a few references to The Exorcist, most notably a spider-walk scene. While that immediately screams ‘cliche’, the film has a few of those moments that poke fun at itself (the do-it-yourself exorcism smartphone app, for instance), which when you approach the film from the right angle, is kind of fun.
Speaking of cliches, the film’s acting certainly qualifies. Apart from Blatz, who plays Patrick as the obvious on-the-ball, take-charge hero protagonist, the rest of the teens are as unlikeable as you could get, complete with lame dialogue. Horny teen couple who plays strip Russian Roulette, the stoner, the best friend who organized the party against the hero’s wishes, and the kid brother who gets possessed. As a result, expect that cockiness and arrogance that leads to deaths that are celebrated, rather than mourned. Speaking of the deaths, while there are plenty of gore scenes that should please, Nispel took the quick cut route and we’re seemingly cheated out of getting an extended look at the after effects.
This ‘cheating’ of gore isn’t the only problem for The Asylum. Going back to those ‘poke fun’ moments, the film’s tone is really out of whack. One moment we have a particularly brutal scene, and in the next it’s more comedic. Granted, Nispel has done this before in his films (the possum bit in Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the implied mannequin sex in Friday The 13th), but here it seems that he’s gone a bit overboard. Also seemingly unbalanced is the film’s pacing, which starts to lose itself midway through, and eventually stumbles over the finish line with an awkwardly-constructed finale. Coupled with the fact that you really only care about Blatz and his brother, it doesn’t make sitting through the film waiting for the teens to get possessed/die any easier.
However, as I said previously, there’s a bit of fun with The Asylum if you come at it with a certain level of expectation. Given Nispel’s past with remakes, those of you who had low expectations with those films will probably get more out of this film because of low expectations. The film isn’t going to scare the crap out of you, nor will it wow you with gore. Nispel’s visuals and camerawork are consistent with his previous work, and the characters aren’t incredibly deep. Simply put, The Asylum is one of those films where you turn your brain off and just let it play with a couple of friends and a case of beer. In spite of all that, here’s hoping Nispel continues to branch out more with his writing and develop it further.